In this debut novel, a traveler arrives in Wales in the years following Jesus’ Crucifixion, calling on a battle-hardened warlord to aid in spreading Christianity.
Caradog ap Bran is a Welsh warrior from Caerlech—modern-day Cardiff—waging a guerrilla war against the invading Roman soldiers who murdered his family. Through the violence appears “the Messenger,” a man called Joseph of Arimathea, who has journeyed from Judea to tell of the recent Crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection, and further spread his new gospel. But Joseph’s Messiah has given him another task as well, to not just convert those who glorify lesser gods, but to specifically find Caradog, who has been prophesized to one day stand before the Romans on their own ground and preach directly to his enemies. At first unconvinced, Caradog encounters yet another man, a Roman centurion he has captured, who was present at the Crucifixion, and has been sent by Jesus to assist the warrior after Joseph has departed. But enemies to their holy purpose abound, not just the Romans, who still wish to take over Wales and have begun to realize what they stirred up in Judea, but also the aged wizard Merlon and the alluring enchantress Rhewbina, mystically powered agents of the Welsh’s serpentine god Ocelus. Sweeting’s absorbing tale deftly pulls information from historical and biblical records, presuming Joseph of Arimathea was the first to bring early Christianity to Wales. The novel is meticulously detailed, bringing to life the rustic British countryside, the opulence of Roman fortifications and armor, and the furs and functionality of the Welsh villages, while recounting the battle tactics and politics of both sides. The book suffers from its length (nearly 400 pages), regularly repeating information unnecessarily, a problem that could be easily solved by sharper editing. The story is told in a modern style, which is occasionally distracting when using phrases like “alarm bells sounded” and words like “curveball,” among others, despite the period. The first entry in a series, the book ends with numerous cliffhangers, from threats on Joseph’s life to Caradog’s uncertainty on his path, effectively setting the stage for an epic.
An engrossing but lengthy religious tale about a warrior’s mission.